Blog : Four nations, four nights

Steven Ward


On Tuesday, 31 May at precisely 18.00hrs, I resigned and left my job. I’d had enough and needed to escape the Rat Race with immediate effect. My next stop was hastily decided upon by a weather report and a half-hearted promise made during my previous job.

By 19.00hrs my car, the Freelander 2 auto as blogged about here previously, was washed, packed, fuelled and bound for Scotland. We’d booked ourselves on the Stena crossing from Cairnryan to Belfast at 23:30hrs. The Emerald Isle was to be our playground for the next week.

The drive to the West of Scotland was fast and scenic – a prelude, in fact, to the whole trip. Wonderful weather, stunning views and sunlight late into the evening inspired me. The only issue here concerned a truck leaving the road, hitting a gravel verge before righting itself. The debris thrown-up could have easily ended the trip there and then for us.

A quick detour up the high street of Newton Stewart for old times’ sake and then onto the waiting ferry which was more Mary Celeste than commuter craft as it was desolate. We settled down to contemplate our plans which were nothing more than this: visit an Opel dealer in Galway whose warranty claims I used to administer (via a call centre here) and a pint with a mate in Dublin on Friday night. Nothing more…


We disembarked and drove into Belfast with some trepidation. It was now 2am and, the last time I’d stayed here, The Troubles were still raging. All around the hotel there were hundreds of people out and about. However, they weren’t marching, they were just minging – drunk that is. The atmosphere wasn’t charged, just merry which was a relief and reminded me of a much younger me.

The next morning was warm and bright and we breakfasted on the pavement at a corner café. Walking around Belfast, it was friendly, business-like but still derelict looking. There was a sense of optimism in the air that made this feel like a city hopeful rather than hateful. I’m so pleased for Belfast that it’s finding peace, surely prosperity will follow?

We left at midday and set a lose South West course for Galway City Centre via any where that looked good on a map. We slowly mouched, stopped, admired and chatted (they love to talk in Ireland) until I realised I’d left it too late to get to my Opel dealer before close. We quickly realised that the Irish live life at a different pace.

JJ Fleming

I got to J.J. Fleming’s  (above) too late for Aftersales, but Sales were still open. I explained to the old-boy salesman that I was their old Dealer Assist Agent from the UK. He recognised my accent and made call to Trevor, their Aftersales Manager: ‘You’ll never guess who’s here?’ That call saw him turn around mid-commute and return to the garage.

We chewed the fat for the next hour about the current Opel range, customers (what else!) and the current marque I’d been working for. It was a strange feeling meeting people who’ve you’d dealt with day-in, day out for years but whom you’ve never met.

Shaking hands and saying farewell proper, we’d made good on an emotional pact we’d made before GM made an entire office redundant during Christmas week. I felt honoured to have served such decent people despite loyalty not existing in the Global Capitalism lexicon.

Galway itself was an eye and mouth-opener. It was jumping, it was cultured, it was laid back, it was bohemian, it is beautiful. But tonight, it was warm, it was sunny and the local Connacht Rugby team had just won the Guinness Pro12 Final in Edinburgh. We literally partied for over two miles. Suffice to say, by midnight, our next-day destination, Cork, was looking doubtful.


The next morning dawned, you guessed, bright, beautiful and hung-over. The Manager of the hotel, ‘just’ a Travelodge, seemed to be part raconteur, part Galway marketing board genius who happened to manage the area’s hotel chains. ‘Cork’, he explained, ‘is just like Birmingham’. My missus is from the West Midlands and I’ve been to Cork. We ‘ummed and ‘ahh’d at this statement. ‘Besides’, we explained, ‘we like driving, too’.

Undeterred, our man carried on. He plotted a route on a map he just had to hand for us to tour ‘brilliant driving roads, stunning attractions, breath-taking scenery.’ He finally promised that, when we returned to his hotel that night, ‘Galway will be REALLY jumping’. Our extended stay was assured and the charm of the Irish won again. I also got my photo taken with John Wayne.

Everything my man promised rang true – it was all that and more. When was the last time a Hotel Manager in the UK took time out to engage with their guests like that? But he wasn’t the exception; he was the norm. Galway was immensely relaxing and inspiring and simply brilliant. The locals are your best friend you’ve yet to meet.


Friday dawned bright, warm and full of adventure. Blogger and BL buyer John O’Sullivan of this parish was breaking-up from his teaching job at 3pm. ‘I’ll see you there’ was my promise. We elected to use an Irish toll motorway to get there both to save time and see if they’re like the French toll roads. They’re not as expansive, but they are fast, sweeping through the lush countryside, well surfaced and sighted. A fast cruise was effortless and enjoyable and the two tolls amounted to less than €5.

Entering Dublin’s rush hour traffic (earlier than usual as it was a Bank Holiday weekend) and guess who we get stuck next to in Traffic? Yes, it’s John and the luck o’the Irish prevails again. We got parked at our hotel, saw some sights in Dublin and then hit the bars – not the Stag ‘n’ Hen do Temple Bar area (although we did sample it for old times’ sake), but where the trendy locals hang out. And it’s good to see our old friend the Maxus van is everywhere (above)…

Yet again, Ireland is friendly, cultured and simply relaxing. It was the prefect antidote to a previously arduous six months in a stressful aftersales job taken in desperation for an over-rated manufacturer. We took a slow walk back to our hotel after an agreeable evening meal where the table was yours for the night, a contrast to the UK’s idea of getting you in and out ASAP.

We decided that we needed to go home on Saturday as we’d left in a hurry on the Tuesday and we may have left the iron on! Rather than a sprint up to Belfast, we sail from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales. The Stena ferry this time is at full capacity. We’d see what happened in Wales, we may have stayed over.

Wales was basking in early evening sun. Rather than spend a night there, I decided to see if I could get home to the North East that night using the long, late sunlight. We plotted a course up the M6 to Tebay and, knowing what I know about motorway patrols, I figured I could do a prolonged spot of low flying for the duration.

Sure enough, at 23:00hrs, I arrived home in a horrifically fly-splattered, travel-stained Freelander. We’ve covered a thousand miles and the four nations of the UK as well as the glorious Republic. Four nights of as little sleep as possible as every sleep felt like Christmas Eve.

Average fuel consumption over the whole trip was 33mpg – identical to what I’d have got 21 years earlier in my Metro on a similar pre-solstice drive. But the conveyance was a world away and, besides, Metros aren’t as quite dog friendly as a Freelander. The trip was everything I’d hoped for.

Now, does anyone require a tame Motor Trade employee for hire and reward and the odd blog?

Kylemore Abbey

Keith Adams


  1. Delighted you had such a good trip Steven and got to sample a small portion of The Wild Atlantic Way. I’d recommend anyone looking for a good driving holiday with challenging roads, magnificent scenery, great food and wonderful people to give it a try. Hell it would be great for a banger rally. Don’t be fooled by how small the country is, there’s a few days driving in it if you want to enjoy yourself.

  2. Oh and there are a lot of LDV vans on the road after the postal service bought a batch of them. Lots of private sales too. And I’ve noticed an MAXUS EV in the importers yard recently.

  3. Great writeup!

    If you’d ventured north out of Belfast, and followed the signs for the “Causeway Coastal Route”, you’d have taken in the Antrim Coast Road – a brilliant drive.

    You could’ve also detoured to the “Dark Hedges”, if you are a Game of Thrones fan (most of the series is filmed here – the main studio is the big ex-shipyard paint hall behind the new Titanic museum).

    There are loads of great hotels in the South, and like you say the pace of life is different, much more continental.

    • Ah yes GoT that’s some show.
      I notice that Chris Evans New Top Gear have filmed a large feature in County Kerry featuring Roll Royce convertibles.
      And As you point out the Antirm coast road is spectacular.
      It’s almost weird that Clarkson TG ignored the Emerald isle during their 22 season run, save for a brief piece with a Mazda MX5 and a Greyhound track, which could easily have been filmed in Swindon or Milton Keynes for all that Ireland featured in it.
      The reason I say this, is that Ireland does have some great roads.
      However the Police are very busy installing literally hundreds of speed cameras.
      Ireland will head like Ferguson, USA or Britain after the Poll Tax riots.
      The motorist is been used as a revenue raising device to make up for lower tax receipts.
      A disgusting development which will have consquences for the future.
      so, book your ferry now.. before things change.. and not for the better.

      • There are no fixed speed cameras in Ireland and no plans to install a them. There is talk of average speed cameras but I doubt they’ll be on the smaller roads.

        • There used to be fixed speed cameras – the one on the M1, and the one on the Dundalk old bypass near the greyhound track?

          • They’re now gone. Most of the fixed cameras had a tyre placed around them and were filled with petrol and somehow went on fire. They’ve a fleet of mobile cameras now but I don’t think they can fine any UK regged vehicles

  4. John.
    At the risk off entering into a Brexit type debate.
    The Eu have passed rules which allow/ make easier the exchange of driver details within the eU.
    I will give you three guesses as to which Country was in the first in the queue to implement this policy.
    That’s right.. The DVLA is the most well oiled driver agency in Europe ready in their efficent manner to leave Uk drivers out to dry.
    Please no Brexiters. Because it is the British efficency which iis to blame at the end of the day.
    Google EUCARIS

    • I’m not sure what the argument is but the only exchange of details between Ireland and the UK around driver details is in regards to driving bans. They are valid at both sides of the border however speeding tickets and penalty points don’t carry from one jurisdiction to the other. You may get the fine but the points seem to disappear.

      • Just to add to that the PSNI have the power to stop and arrest any driver misbehaving on the roads. They can issue an on the spot fine and if you can’t pay it’s a night in the cells. I believe they are unique in that way among police forces.

  5. Good luck to you. There are far too many people trying to ‘keep up with the jones’ with a dead end job they hate just for a life in the suburbs and a mediocre company car on the drive.

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